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Mark Atwood
Mark's Stories. Splitting the Oak.
When my family lived in North Carolina, we supplemented the heating of our house by burning wood. It was from this I learned the basics of chainsaw (stay away from the men running the saws), the basics of hauling wood (it's heavy and fills your arms with splinters when carried), and the basics of hand splitting..

Towards this purpose, we acquired a splitting block, a cut round of very twisted very knotty North Carolina Oak, almost 3 feet in diameter and about 2 feet long. A lot of pieces of wood were split on it, mostly by my father, but a significant amount by me.

When we moved to Utah, the splitting block came with. And we continued to supplement the heat in the house by burning wood. (Later, the stove was converted to coal, and now it burns compressed wood pellets, as my parents no longer have kids at home to split wood or fetch coal).

One evening, in my early to mid teens, I was angry and grumpy about something that I am sure that I thought was Very Important at the time, as teenage boys often are, and I was sent out back to split wood.

By this time the splitting block had been used well and hard. It's working face beaten into a impenetrable rubbery solid pulp of oak fiber. You could hit it with the sharpest hatchet, and blade would just bounce.

I started splitting, setting each log up on the block, then swinging the splitting maul around and over, to catch the top of the log as it fell. Whack. Whack. Whack.

I continued getting angrier and grumpier, about whatever slight had been handed me, and I kept on lifting and splitting. Whack. Whack. Whack.

And then it happened.

I set a log, and started swinging the maul, and the Stars Aligned. I could feel all my muscles and joints line up perfectly. The heavy handle and lump of steel felt weighless. The swing was perfect. No, really, it was perfect.

Like the absolutely perfect strike in at the moment of climax in a martial arts movie.

The maul went thru the log like it wasn't there. It split cleanly, it's two halves flying apart. And my body stayed in perfect motion, and the edge kept decending...

The maul cleanly went right through the impenetrable mush on the top of the block. It slid smoothly into the cross-joined fibers of mess of knots in that old piece of century oak. The handle twisted back and forth in my perfectly placed hands, as the head of the maul danced between the seperating knots.

With a loud boom, the block blew apart, into three pieces.

Finally the maul stopped, it's head buried deep in the dirt.

I stopped, blinking. Amazed. Dumbstruck.

My body had never done anything like that before. And for as long as it's made of mere wet meat, it probably never will again.

Current Location: Home, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

15 comments or Leave a comment
dcseain From: dcseain Date: July 11th, 2007 03:12 am (UTC) (Link)
That type of thing is truly amazing to experience, ain't it. Thanks for sharing.
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 11th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Martial arts channels those moments.

Sam has a thick block of wood he broke apart with one kick. I was amazed, he's a skinny ten-year-old.

I totally forgot about how you did that.

Man, I hated carrying wood and getting coal. It was okay at the beginning of winter when the bin was full adn the pieces were reasonable sizes, but by the end, mom wanted small pieces but there was nothing left but huge ones. Not to mention that the coal was as cold as ice and the bin was pitch black. You had to climb in and find coal by braille.

However, whenever I hear someone whine about something, I think they are pansies who must never have had to get coal in the dark dead of winter. I'm sure people who had to milk cows think the same thing. ha ha
dcseain From: dcseain Date: July 11th, 2007 04:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure people who had to milk cows think the same thing.

Yes, we do. Though i'd sooner milk a cow in an unheated barn at 4AM in January than pluck a chicken, given a choice.

Plucking is hard work, to the point that i'm not quite sure why people bother, unless they'd starve otherwise.
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 11th, 2007 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I heard you can scald them and skin the whole thing and not bother with plucking? I don't know. I dont' think my mom even plucked a chicken, but only because she was the youngest and got away with turning up her nose.

I guess there was character building in crawling into that frozen coal bin, but at the time it felt like child abuse. It's hilarious that as soon as my mom had to get her own coal and wood, they bought a pellet stove. ha
docorion From: docorion Date: July 11th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Cool story; thanks for sharing.

What, dare I ask, was the family reaction?
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 11th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I think we were all as dumbfounded and amazed as he was.
wurtmann From: wurtmann Date: July 11th, 2007 04:45 am (UTC) (Link)
The main reason we got the pellet stove was for heat on the "red burn" days.
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 11th, 2007 05:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure that is true, though you would not deny a tiny fraction was not wanting to fetch your own frozen coal. ha ha It was fine at the beginning of winter, but at the end, you had to actually climb in, and there were spiders in there, and it was pitch black, and all the normal sized chunks were gone. Gah. Good times.
blackcoat From: blackcoat Date: July 11th, 2007 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I actually would split wood as martial arts practice. The zen-like feeling of moving with your whole body, to put this three pound hunk of metal at the end of a three foot stick RIGHT where you want it, for half an hour, is incredible. And just like putting this hand, in exactly this position, right there, moving in exactly this way to put it there. For, you know...half an hour or so. ;-)

And, to save money buying the wood myself, I'd wander around the neighborhood, offering to split it for 5 bucks an hour. The other teens would *gladly* pay me to do their work, and I'd get paid to workout. :)
jenevastorme From: jenevastorme Date: July 11th, 2007 10:37 am (UTC) (Link)
What a Zen moment. ;-) I've had a few of those, but not of such a magnitude that it split the block, heh. Still, wood splitting is great for taking out one's frustrations. I used to picture the log as the head of my nemesis to improve my aim...

I actually miss heating with wood, especially after mom got the stove and we weren't trying to warm the whole house with a dinky fireplace at one end. There were days when literally all I did was bring in wood and keep that damned fire going.
jatg From: jatg Date: July 11th, 2007 02:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Holy cow, I had forgotten that story. I remember the awe. :)
captain_button From: captain_button Date: July 11th, 2007 02:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
But did the scene replay three times from different angles in slow motion?
fallenpegasus From: fallenpegasus Date: July 11th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sadely, no. :)

The experience also has kind of spoiled martial arts movies for me. No matter how the director tries, no amazing FX view on the screen can match the feeling of Thoughtless Power that experiencing it from the inside gave.
seawasp From: seawasp Date: July 11th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)


... kinda the total inverse of the time that I swung, the maul got stuck halfway through, and my attempt to sledgehammer it through ended with a piece of the maul IN my leg?

Perfect moments are all too rare.
mystic_savage From: mystic_savage Date: July 23rd, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like this -- V.
15 comments or Leave a comment